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    Grow Your Own Lettuce | Fall 2012 Out Here Magazine

    Enjoy fresh salads through fall and early winter by planting now

    lettuce growing in planters
    Theresa Martz starts several kinds of lettuce in flats before she transplants into her garden. The variety in the center is "Winter Density."
    Out Here

    By Theresa Martz

    Photography by Theresa Martz

    If you want to savor fresh, homegrown salads all the way into early winter, now is the time to start planting lettuce.

    Sowing seeds in August and early September gives your lettuce enough time to attain a significant size before cold weather and low light conditions stop vigorous growth. This is the lettuce that will give you fresh salads for Christmas dinner.

    Lettuce is easy to grow. You can either scatter your seed over a prepared garden bed rich in organic matter or you can plant sparsely in rows several inches apart.

    Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and sprinkle lightly with straw.

    Straw helps in two ways; it acts as a mulch to keep the soil from drying and it keeps the tiny lettuce seeds in place when you water. After spreading straw, then water your newly planted seeds.

    Lettuce is a cool-weather crop, and its natural state is to lie dormant through hot weather and then germinate when cool temperatures arrive. So if you live in an area where August temperatures stay in the 90s — which is not ideal for lettuce germination — you can use a few easy tricks to get your lettuce to germinate:

    • Keep the seed in the refrigerator a couple of days before planting to help trigger and increase germination.
    • Help seeds germinate by lowering the soil temperature of your planting area by watering deeply and then mulching heavily. I throw a thick layer of straw — about 3 or more inches — on the planting bed before watering so the soil won't compact. Water for at least 30 minutes. Wait a couple of days, pull back the straw, and then plant your seeds.
    • Start lettuce in flats in a shady area. Fill the flat with grow mix, wet it well, scratch the surface of the soil to give the seeds areas to lodge, and scatter the seed. A little straw on top will keep seeds in place and the soil moist. After the lettuce grows to be about 1½ inches tall, transplant into your garden.

    FALL VARIETIES

    Some lettuces are better suited than others for fall and winter's low light and colder temperatures. Experiment with some of these cold weather varieties to see which ones perform well in your garden:

    • Winter Density — This green romaine type is one of the best for fall/winter planting. It's productive even in low light conditions and very cold tolerant.
    • Rough D'Hiver (Red of Winter) — Another romaine type with red-tipped leaves and dark green base, this lettuce is frost tolerant, productive, and easy to grow. Especially delicious as a baby leaf variety.
    • Winter Marvel — This butterhead with tasty tender leaves has superior cold tolerance. It is one of the best bets for very cold areas.
    • Little Gem — This miniature romaine lettuce is beautiful and the taste is great. It does very well in my fall/winter garden.
    • Bronze Arrowhead — This variety is touted by many to be one of the best lettuces in the world and is worth trying, especially if you live in zone 8 or below.

    With a little protection from freezing temperatures, all of these lettuces will winter over. And you'll still be enjoying salads while you're waiting for your spring plantings to come up.

    Theresa Martz, of Virginia, a longtime organic gardener, writes about gardening at tendingmygarden.com.

     

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